Sixty and definitely not out

Talking to the multi-talented singer Paul Jones.

Paul Jones began as a singer with Manfred Mann, who later evolved into the Manfreds. On 30th September they’ll be playing Birmingham Town Hall as part of their sixtieth anniversary tour. Which leads to the inevitable question – do you think you’ll make this your full-time career now?

“Well, it’s a bit late to start thinking about anything else, although other things may crop up.”

Sixty years. I suppose for something like this there’s the tendency to think it’s a farewell tour.

“The word ‘farewell’ is nowhere in my vocabulary at the moment. We’re enjoying good health and vigour, and want to carry on.”

The band does seem to be something of a rarity in that you remain true to yourselves and to your roots. There’s a lot of blues in your sets.

“Yes. We got away from it a bit in the sixties. I don’t know if that was a mistake or if it was just the next thing that happened. When we got back together in 1991 we decided to go back to some extent and be the band we had been at the beginning and in a way even that has increased, that particular way of looking at things and choosing material, has increased a lot over the past thirty years. We play a lot of blues, a fair bit of jazz, a bit of soul, mix them all up together with the hits and see what comes out.”

One of the great things about the internet is that you can easily look up a lot of background stuff, so I could find out, and please excuse my ignorance, but I wasn’t aware until recently that My Little Red Book was a Manfred Mann song.

“That’s very understandable because it was never issued as a single. It only got noticed in America, where it was the title track of the album My Little Red Book of Winners. Burt Bacharach, who wrote the song in his screenplay for the film What’s New Pussycat? didn’t like the Love version, he much preferred ours.

“In his book Anyone Who Had a Heart he does get one thing wrong, though. He said he recorded the tune twice in London but both times with Manfred Mann. The truth is that the second wasn’t with Manfred, but because I was on it he thought that counted as Manfred Mann but the second version, which is in the movie, isn’t ours, it was cut a week or two later at Pye studio with a bunch of session musicians. I couldn’t name you any of them but it’s certainly not the Manfred Mann version although I am singing on it.”

Mike D’Abo is back with the band for this tour.

“Mike is here and there. It’s entirely up to him whether he appears with us but he will be doing the autumn tour. He will be at Birmingham Town Hall on 30th September. Your readers need not worry.”

I suppose when you’ve written Handbags & Gladrags you don’t have to work if you don’t want.

“You know, I believe he makes more money from Build Me Up Buttercup, which he co-wrote, but he makes a lot from both of them and he absolutely deserves it.”

Indeed. Enough people got ripped off at the time so good luck to anyone who did well later on from their songwriting.

“Yes, I’ve got an album out, The Blues, which is entirely songs I’ve written, but 5-4-3-2-1 and The One in the Middle are on it. Someone at the record company asked why a blues album would have 5-4-3-2-1 but that is a blues, just listen to the bars.”

You’ve also got Tom McGuinness, who’s been a regular with you since way back. It’s quite an authentic line-up of the band.

“Yes, unfortunately we don’t have either Mike Hugg or Rod Townsend, who became a Manfred in 1991, which is reasonably long enough but they are hors de combat at the moment although we have absolutely sensational deputies. And you can guarantee Paul Jones, Tom McGuinness and Mike d’Abo.”

It’s at Birmingham Town Hall, which itself is a veteran venue that must have a few memories for you.

“I’ve played there many times, and it has a particular memory because in 1967 I made a film called Privilege. Much of it was filmed in Birmingham and all the sequences of me as a convict inside a mobile cell was on the platform at Birmingham Town hall, which was weird. I also played there with the Birmingham Royal Ballet Sinfonietta and with the Blues Band. We did one gig there with King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys supporting – what a hard act they were to follow”

And to add to the old-style feeling the tour is something like thirty-odd dates in about sixty nights.

“I suppose it is. We’ve been doing it every other year since the nineties. Only twice will we have done it without any guests, once was our fiftieth anniversary and the other time will be our sixtieth. Every other time we’ve done it with guests and we’ve had some wonderful guests – Georgie Fame, Alan Price, Paul Young, PP Arnold, Chris Farlowe, Long John Baldry, Colin Blunstone, they’re all there.”

Colin Blunstone, for one. His voice hasn’t changed.

“Well, I can detect, being a singer myself, slight, slight changes but if you’re singing a song over a period of fifty years you will change slightly. Colin and Rod Argent did a gig for me the other year and they were absolutely sensational.”

Touring is a bit easier now, because you only have to carry so much gear and there’s less overnight stays.

“We try to keep it working that way, because that’s the normal modus operandi for the Manfreds. I try to work three nights a week on average, we like to get away from it for three days then come back. We keep our energy level high because everything’s fresh. If you do six or seven gigs a week I don’t care how young, strong and athletic you are, you will not keep up the same strength and fire.”

You mentioned the Blues Band earlier. Are they finished now?

“Yes, the band has come to an end. 43 years was long enough; I don’t think the enthusiasm was a constant and high-level as it had been earlier.”

So the only chance to to hear Paul Jones singing now is with the Manfreds.

“I do have other things in my diary as well but they tend to be isolated events, basically getting together with musicians I admire, love and can’t stay away from. Plus there’s also important stuff my wife and I do which involves churches.”

The Manfreds play Birmingham Town Hall on 30th September. Tickets.